Know-How: Roofing

As winter nears an end, school maintenance workers begin turning their attention to spring-cleaning tasks. High on the list should be roof inspections — especially in those areas where the roofs have endured a harsh winter.

Although not all schools and universities have the maintenance staff to carry out semi-annual inspections of all their buildings, roofing experts say that should be the goal for education institutions.

The best time for maintenance workers to get up on the roof and do those inspections is in the spring and in the fall.

All roofing deteriorates eventually, but schools that conduct regular inspections are more likely to see their roofs reach their expected life span. Effective inspections will enable workers to discover obvious signs of trouble, such as standing water, that can't be detected without getting a close-up look.

A close inspection also can reveal early signs of damage and decay that can be repaired before too much water and moisture can seep undetected into a building. Unchecked leakage can lead to mold growth and structural deterioration that can exacerbate damage to a facility.

The Chicago public school system, with more than 600 schools and about 425,000 students, urges its maintenance staff to inspect roofs twice a year.

“Semi-annual roof inspections and maintenance can substantially increase the useful life of the roof,” the district states in a facility operations bulletin.

“It can prevent serious interior and exterior damage to the buildings. And it will reduce many of the roof problems that occur with winter freeze and thaw conditions.”

The school system spells out a five-step process for inspections:

  • Remove all the debris, old equipment and soil buildup around the drains. Scupper wells, drain covers, overflows and the areas around these items must be clean to allow the proper drainage of all roof water.

  • Walk the perimeter of the roof and inspect the parapet capstones or tiles to see that they are in good condition with the joints well-sealed. Open joints, or cracked stone or tile can lead to rapid deterioration of the parapet walls and roof flashings.

  • Inspect the flashing where it's attached to the brickwork and overlaps the roofing material. Areas where the roof mastic has separated from the flashing or brickwork should be repaired immediately to eliminate water infiltration under the roof membrane. The repair can be done at the time of the inspection using common roof cement or mastic.

  • Inspect all the equipment flashings, vent flashings, conduit penetrations, fixture mountings and roof hatch openings to see if the roof mastic has been damaged.

  • Walk the remaining open portions of the roof; note any soft or ballooned areas that may require venting, and request repairs from the appropriate department.

NOTABLE

36

Percentage of K-12 schools renovated in 2004 that included roof upgrades.

25

Percentage of higher-education institutions renovated in 2004 that included roof upgrades.

Source: American School & University, “31st Annual Official Education Construction Report,” May 2005.

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